Blowing Rock N.C. doesn’t blow at all. It’s really cool.

Legend has it an Indian brave despondent over a young maiden threw himself off this craggy ledge only to be blown back to safety by a strong updraft of wind.  True or not, it’s a terrific vantage point from which to  view the Blue Ridge Mountains. And nothing makes you feel more alive than rock climbing in flip flops!

Finnegan meanwhile has been a real champ. Keeping an eye on me,  but obviously delirious over exotic odors of bear poop and  marmot vomit (which oddly smells of pesto).  He got a little spooked by the cooler in his cargo space. It rolled into him a couple times before I tied it down.  But now we’ve achieved a nice configuration for him… what you might call good Finn Shue.

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To Build a Fire

  Maybe I was being hasty, but I thought spreading out the wee bag of kindling I purchased at the camp store over some crumpled up notebook paper would be sufficient to ignite a cheery blaze at campsite #26 on Mount Pisgah along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Humidity, it turns out is a bitch. So is incompetence in fire starting.  After 20 minutes of cursing and coaxing, I managed only to singe my corneas and inhale a carton of Camel non filters worth of smoke. 

Lacking a Vietnam era flamethrower, I resorted to placing three sticks of crooked firewood directly onto the burner of my Coleman gas grill. After thirty seconds, I used salad tongs to lift the fiery swastika into the fire pit. Then I sat basking in the glow, marveling at all the time I saved not earning an Eagle Scout badge.

Adventures of Bren-egan

This segment of my ‘sabbeardical’ is an effort to seek beauty and clarity in nature accompanied by a 100 pound freak of nature- Finnegan the Doberman. As a kid, Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley were among my favorite books. Both involved fearless men who shared their adventures with a canine companion.  But unlike Jack London’s weather hardened St. Bernard mix, Buck-  Finnegan will be spending the night outdoors for the first time in his 5 years with me.  He is more likely to hear a “Call of the Couch”.


So off we venture for two weeks in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. In a world of tricked out campers and Ford F-150 trucks, Finn and I will tour these red states in a white Prius.. God help us.

Next:  To build a fire!

 

 

Nigel Powers is wrong. The Dutch are awesome!

When people cite Northern Europe’s high standard of living, low poverty rate and high taxes that pay for excellent health care, education and transportation, it’s often dismissed as something the U.S. could never do. We’re too  large, diverse and conservative they say to go with single payer health care or legal prostitution.  There’s some truth to that, but Holland is an extremely diverse (and capitalistic)  country that is closing prisons at a record clip and solving other very thorny social issues.

The Netherlands is famous for it’s “coffee” shops and red light districts, but it’s a mistake to assume these exist because of some deeply entrenched liberalism.  One Dutchman told me the approach they take to these issues is threefold: Does it make money? Does it hurt anyone? Can it be done discreetly?  And indeed their policies on drugs and prostitution generate lots of tax and tourist dollars while mitigating the harm to drug users, prostitutes and the public when it comes to vices that no society has ever managed to eradicate. Ever.

Besides that, the place is a joy to visit. The ubiquitous bike lanes along impossibly picturesque canals are in almost every city.. not just Amsterdam. The usual European magnificence of architecture and history are there in abundance and food and art and  beer and ethnic food yada yada yada.  And the ability to walk into a store and buy a joint doesn’t seem to have unraveled their society as some claim it would do here.

The Netherlands ain’t perfect. It’s below sea level in a world of rising seas for one thing. But in typical Dutch fashion, they’ve brought energy and ingenuity to the task of reclaiming and holding dry land. In fact, Dutch engineers are involved in flood control efforts in New York and Louisiana because of their expertise.  Let’s see some pictures, eh?

The Dubliners

Third time is the charm with Ireland. My first two visits in 1998 and  2010 were fun and interesting, but both times I left puzzled at the Irish people’s reputation for warmth and friendliness. They were polite enough, but the average person we encountered on the street or at the pub seemed perfectly content with the friends they already had.  Maybe I was expecting too much and projecting a weird, needy vibe. This time was different.

The economic recovery might have something to do with it, but everyone from the cab drivers to our airbnb host were cheerful, talkative and helpful. The whole city seemed to be riding high. Pubs, cafes, stores, streets and bike lanes all bustling.  Ireland is not quite the Celtic Tiger that was shot down in the economic collapse of 2008 (that they partly blame us for). It’s now more like the Celtic Panther- stealthier, more cautious.

More than mere tourists, my wife Sandy, brother Bill and his wife Emma from San Francisco came to  Ireland for my Nephew’s wedding. Michael met Tania in SF and followed her back to her home country of Ireland. They were married in Dublin’s City Hall with a two day reception filled with  music, dancing, fueled by Guinness, Jameson’s and great food.  Sadly, Sandy was sickened by a tainted carrot juice smoothie the day before the wedding and missed it all. So much for trying to be healthy.

Other noticeable changes in Dublin- the food, traditionally bland and starchy is now world class. Didn’t have anything less than excellent restaurant meals all week. The coffee culture is also  now fully entrenched. And the weather was bizarrely balmy for early May-  a small and fleeting consolation prize from  global climate change.

 

 

 

Last Tango in Argentina

Now that I’ve been back home for a few weeks, it’s past time to wrap up the South American adventure in pictures. What did I accomplish with this solitary 24 day sojourn? Here’s the short list:

-I doubled my Spanish vocabulary which now rivals that of a clever Myna Bird.

-Confirmed that water really does swirl down the drain in the opposite direction south of the Equator.

-Discovered that Latins and Europeans work less than that we do. As a result most people walk around with less money and less stuff, but they have more family and friend time and less stress- a reasonable trade-off in my opinion.

-Gazed at a waterfall that makes Niagara look like the splash pad at Curtis Hixon Park and a desert mountains cape that could have been the setting of “The Martian”.

-Was reminded that I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful life here in Tampa Bay that makes coming home the best part of every trip.

Now the sights and sounds of Argentina. (Imagine the sounds)

 

Stared out the window for two hours looking at this go by.
Stared out the window for two hours looking at this go by.
And this.
And this.
Totally could have scaled those peeks, but the blood clot.. you know.
Totally could have scaled those peeks, but the blood clot.. you know.
Thermal springs that paint the rocks.
Thermal springs paint the rocks a crazy Trump orange.
This ski resort opens less frequently because of the liberal hoax of global warming.
This ski resort opens less frequently because of the liberal hoax of global warming.
2/3rds of the "Tres Amigos".
2/3rds of the “Tres Amigos”.
Easier to make friends with Germans and Aussies who speak your lingo. That's just science.
Easier to make friends with Germans and Aussies who speak your lingo. That’s just science.

 

Made some Argentine friends too. Senoras, bailamos!~
Made some Argentine friends too. Senoras, bailamos!
Iguazu Fall. s
Iguazu Falls.
Not a full double rainbow, but not bad.
Not a full double rainbow, but not bad.

 

Coati Mundis are the raccoons of the southern hemisphere.
Coati Mundis are the raccoons of the southern hemisphere.
The Butterflies. A film by Alfred Hitchcock.
The Butterflies. A film by Alfred Hitchcock.
When butterflies attack.
When butterflies attack. The horror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ybor’s Sister City in South America

Like Ybor City in Tampa, the La Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires gets an unfairly bad rap. Guidebooks are quick to dismiss it as a dangerous tourist trap, which by the way, could describe Chicago.   The gritty waterside barrio is known for its colorfully painted buildings, tango tradition and art museums.  Sure,  tacky souvenir shops abound and the occasional tourist who’s forgotten they’re not in Wisconsin gets jacked, but it turned out to be one of the most pleasant excursions I’ve taken during this three-week trip.

A Walk in the Parque.

Visiting Buenos Aires reminds my that a city is only as good as its parks. This is a nice city.

IMG_5489
I’d bet there are more professional dog walkers per capita in Buenos Aires than in the Upper East Side of New York.  Portenos love their mutts but prefer to outsource the walking and the poop scooping and what not. 
IMG_5499
Lots of paid human trainers too.
IMG_5495
Since I’m not currently a credentialed journalist, I can stage pictures like this.

Tourist Trap

Many a visitor to Mendoza has stumbled into the drainage ditches that line miles of city streets- especially those who’ve been over-served the juice of the indigenous Malbec grape.  And it was the indigenous people who first dug those mini canals that funnel glacial runoff into what would otherwise be an arid high desert.  The vast tree canopy over Mendoza is possible only because of that irrigation.  Local orthopedic surgeons like ’em too.